Being a fan of American TV and cinema as I was growing up, U.S.A was my first travel destination I was inspired to go to. Watching all of those T.V. sitcom and movies, where the main characters go on a road trip across America, some more wacky than others, exploring new places and new people across the country, made me decide that when I grow up, my first trip as an independent traveller would be living for a while the ‘American dream’ and do a ‘a coast to coast’ trip in the country they made look so shiny, fun and interesting over the screen.
I actually did it when I was 22 years old, for a month and a half, after a ‘quick’ 4 months trip to Central America.
Truth to be told, I was a bit disappointed of my American trip, as I find it a bit rough to travel in as an independent backpacker on a budget. Maybe it was because I was coming from travelling Central America, which has by far, a much more cool and relaxing ‘backpackers vibe’, to a more developed (some would say..), a big country where most people don’t really notice you as you walk by them on the wide sidewalks.
From a backpacker point of view that’s just looking for fun experiences and seeing the sites, U.S.A is not really the ‘Land of opportunities’. Not like Central America for example, where sometimes you can find any local on the street to help you out and be your ‘middle man’ on everything that you need, in U.S.A everything is much more formal, which I’m not sure if it’s a good thing when you are trying to have an easy going backpacker life style trip.
I was arriving to U.S.A using a direct flight from Cancun to Los Angeles. My first experience arriving to U.S.A soil had to stand against the wall on the aisle leading from the plane towards immigration, along with Mexican Nationals, while someone checked the Mexicans and my passport and other documents, I guess to see where not “work immigrants.” I have to say I was offended by that, being a tourist coming to see your country.
THE worst thing for a traveller in the U.S.A is its public bus system: the infamous “GREYHOUND”.
My first travel tip would be, NOT TO TRAVEL SOLO IN U.S.A, OR AT LEAST NOT TO RELY ON THE ‘GREYHOUND’ IF POSSIBLE.
My travel tip would be, that if possible, do a road trip across U.S.A like you’re supposed to do it, with a car or caravan. If you are travelling alone, try to find a few fellow travellers to travel with, and rent yourself a car. You can even buy a car for as low as 500-1000$, and then even try to sell it on the end of your trip.
You probably already heard that for the most part, the ‘GREYHOUND’ passengers are the ‘low life’ of America, and some of them go on the bus drunk and smelly. That was pretty OK with me, comparing to what really bothered me was that you can’t really rely on it. In some places there are only a few buses a day, leaving with a few hours difference. To some places, it’s impossible to get to by bus.
First time I wanted to get on a ‘GREYHOUND’ bus, I wanted to leave Los Angeles towards a pretty close by town, Santa Barbara. I arrived to the tickets clerk (after I waited in line) to buy a ticket 10 minutes before the bus was supposed to leave, only to find out that the clerk won’t sell me a ticket, because by company policy they only sell tickets 15 minutes prior to the departure time. I could see the bus right on the station but I couldn’t go on it.
So there I was, stuck at L.A central bus station, having to wait for 3 hours for the next bus to leave. So another travel tip would be to be sure to arrive to the bus station at least 20 minutes prior to the departure time.
I spent in a month and a half travelling in U.S.A about as much as I spent In 4 months of travelling around Central America. And I haven’t seen much of U.S.A a simple dorm room would be around 20-40$. A decent cheap meal would be around 6-10$. Bus rides are expensive and so are the attractions.
So do travel to U.S.A as a solo backpacker on a budget or not?
All an all, I have to say that I loved seeing the places I only saw on screen before. U.S.A also has beautiful nature I haven’t seen a tenth of. So of course I can’t regret doing my trip. And not only that, I’m sure I’ll come back there some day, maybe on a business venture, or with my future family, taking them too, on a coast to coast trip, taking them to the national parks, “sea world”, “Disney world” and such. Only this time, I’m renting a car!
The places I’ve been too.
Oh ‘La la land’, ‘the city of Angeles’, ‘Hollywood’, where they all come to be big stars.
Los Angeles is so famous that I won’t bore you with typical information (you know its sunny right?); I’ll just tell you what I did.
I actually stayed with relatives of my father, living in a fancy ‘PLAZA’ right next to the “farmers market”. After spending 4 months in dirty dorm rooms in Central America, I was living the American dream. I got a whole room for my own in their apartment which is located in a private complex building, with a private swimming pool, computer room, gym and you got the picture. It was a first for me, staying in this kind of ‘plaza’. Sweet.
My accommodation was found not only spoiling, but also located in a great spot.
“The farmers market” across the road where I was staying is actually a landmark in L.A history (started in 1934), which is today a nice looking shopping area with a groceries market of fruit and vegetables and a lot more, plus nice restaurants and stores.
I recommend you go there for a nice walk around the market, looking or shopping for fine food products. Sit down in one of the small market restaurants for a yummy launch.
I stayed in L.A for about a week. Besides “chilling in my relatives crib” and enjoying the pool,
I also went for a very long but enjoyable walk, starting from the famous fancy stores of Rodeo drive in Beverly hills, to Hollywood boulevard.
My travel tip would be, that if you are up for the exercise, you can see a lot of Central L.A major tourist sites in one day, by foot. From Rodeo drive I walked for about an hour to Hollywood Boulevard, took a “see the stars homes tour”, walked it gazing at people, souvenir shops, saw the Chinese theatre, ’walk of fame’ and of course the Hollywood sign. Then I walked to Melrose Street through Santa Monica Boulevard, going into its boutique stores, even found a cool jean I wore for years. After Melrose, I walked back home through Beverly Hills. It was a lovely day.
Another day, I went for the whole day to universal studios park to see how movies are made. That was fun too.
Another interesting place I went to was “La Brea Tar Pits Museum”, where you can interesting looking tar pits formed in the today’s urban heart of L.A.
In the Museum, you can look at fine looking restorations of prehistoric species like mammoths, dire wolves, short-faced bears, ground sloths, and the state fossil of California, the saber-toothed cat, It’s a heaven for kids and dinosaur lovers.
Finally I also got to spend a great day at the most famous Venice beach with is bohemic Atmosphere. I walked all the way to Santa Monica Pier and ate there lunch. It was worth the walk.
From L.A I went to this small beach town. Santa Barbara is situated about 2 hours drive from L.A, on the famous California state road 101, driving along beautiful beached and scenery.
Santa Barbara has a nice beach and a nice main street with nice restaurants, cafes and shops, but it’s pretty boring for a solo backpacker in my opinion. I stayed there in a hostel for one night and moved on. I wanted to get to San Francisco, but Again no luck with the ‘greyhound’, the bus stuck along the way in a small town of San Luis Bispo, and I got stuck there for the night.
San Luis Bispo Was actually kind of nice and pastoral. So It happened that when I was there, it was a fair going on in town, so I got to see it. Also, the place in town to stay in was a B&B, that the only bed they has was a in a dorm room for girls, which agreed me staying there. Unfortunately, the girls were all middle aged women that were there on a bicycle trip.
I loved San Francisco. It really met my expectations to be a beautiful city with great architecture and view, with great vibe and people, and I really enjoyed my time there, day and night. I was glad to see that the vibe that was brought here by the hippies back in the 60′s, somewhat still lives today.
I stayed in San Francisco for about a week in 2 different hostels. In both I met interesting people to hang out with. One was more south than the other which was closer to China town.
The neighborhood was not that good, so one travel tip would be to check where your hostel is located. San Francisco is known to be gay friendly, and In one hostel I’m sure I got ‘hit’ by a guy (I’m straight.. ). In the other one I’m not sure but some guy did ask me to continue my journey in U.S with him, which I declined politely.
San Francisco has a lot to offer for tourists, and I went to most of the famous places like the China town, fisherman’s wharf, Alcatraz prison and of course, the beautiful golden gate bridge.
It’s really easy and fun to get by in San Francisco, either by foot, bicycle, or the famous San Francisco cable cars.
What to do in San Francisco?
One thing I recommend highly on doing is renting a bicycle around the pier area, get a map, and ride the beautiful ride across the golden gate, which is celebrating this year its 75th anniversary.
After crossing the bridge, enjoying the spectacular view of the waters and city,You can stop at Sausalito, a very pretty village with hillside homes, beautiful city views, cafes, shops and restaurants. From there you can ride to Muir woods national park, where you can walk through beautiful tall and ancient Sequoya trees, or ride all the way to the nice town of Tiburon by the bay looking from at north at San Francisco.
I was lucky to be in San Francisco around 4th of July, U.S.A Independence Day, so I was lucky to take part in festive atmosphere public barbecues full of American flags waving as I arrived to Sausalito with my bicycle.
At night time, I had the chance to enjoy at a few “independence day” parties. One was hosted at the hostel I was staying in. Even on a normal night, I enjoyed San Francisco night life scene. The bars and night clubs are very chic with a cool vibe. So I recommend on doing a night crawl every night you are in San Francisco, but please don’t do it alone.
Here is a list of things to do in San Francisco:
Here is a few tips from “ytravel” too:
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is about a three hours’ drive east from San Francisco, still in the beautiful state of California, and it’s one of U.S.A’s first wilderness parks.
This 3,000 square kilometers park, got well known around the world for its huge waterfalls, rivers, stones, tall trees and plants, and plenty livelihood.
Most people go to Yosemite valley, which is about 18 square km.
Its better to plan your trip here, because there is plenty of ground to cover. You can take Yosemite tours. Some places you can get to some places only by car. The park has also an inside bus system, and you can also take short walks and still see beautiful nature.
I went to short walks inside Yosemite valley for a couple of hours (unfortunely I was sick when I visited there), but still enjoyed it very much.
Where to stay?
There are various options of lodging in Yosemite Park, but all of them are expensive resorts and hotels. One cheaper and popular option is camping in the park. Prior reservation is required.
The cheapest option (and not a bad one I might add), is staying a one of the few hostels, located about 40-70 kilometers from the park.
I stayed in “Yosemite bug rustic mountain” resort, which is nice nature resort placed around wild forest scenery, and it even has a natural swimming hole really close by. The place has different types of rooms, and a nice café.
Here is the info on how to get there:
From the outdoors sceneray of Yosemite Park, I took a bus to the urban jungle, the famous “sin city” Las Vegas.
I’m not a big fan of gambling or the endless tourist activities this city has to offer (plus I came on a budget..), but this city, shining with neon lights in the heart of the Nevada desert, is something you have to see for yourself. Las Vegas is huge, but most tourist gather around the famous ‘strip’, where all the big names hotels are located.
Las Vegas is also extremely hot and humid, so you will probably stay indoors for the most part of the day.
There are plenty of things to do in Las Vegas even if you are a backpacker on a budget. Strolling the casinos is free, and There is a great night life scene there, and endless options for eating and dining, for as low as 5 dollars.
Where to stay in Las Vegas as a Backpacker?
I took the Lonely Planet guide advice, and went to stay at http://lasvegashostel.net, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Hostel is located just a 20 minutes’ walk from the greyhound bus terminal, in Fremont street downtown Las Vegas. Fremont Street’s is Las Vegas second most famous street, and it’s considered by some to be “the real Las Vegas”. Fremont Street is home of some of the most famous casinos, and it is famous also for it illuminated “Space Frame”, covering the casino district with a “neon open ceiling”.
The hostel is a great backpacker’s hostel, filled with a young crowd, different types of private and dorm rooms, a swimming pool, and all you can eat pancake buffet for breakfast. One of the best things about this place, it’s their everyday changing activities you can sign up for. For example, when I was there, they has one night a “Limo strip crawl”, which offered a Limousine picking the guests up with a glass of champagne inside the limo, taking them to the strip, plus 3 free passes parties around the strip, including a visit to “coyote ugly“, and that’s all for 20$ per person. Nice.
The area of the hostel is not that good, but you don’t need to hang out outside, except maybe going to the dinner next door for a nice sandwich or pizza.
Arizona – The Grand Canyon, Sedona, flagstaff
So I went on, to see one of the world’s natural wonders, the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon
The Colorado River cut the rocky rims, to form this spectacular geological phenomenon. Every earth lover, would be amazed looking down at this different desert colors, 1.6 km deep canyon. The Grand Canyon national park is a very popular place to visit, both for domestic and outside tourism.
Every year about 5 million people visit there, and if you want to stay away from the crowd, the less busy time of the year is around November to February, when it gets very cold and snowy. The Grand Canyon offers a few outdoor activities. The most expensive (but I guess beautiful) one Is a helicopter ride above the park. Another option is a rafting trip down on the Colorado River stream, but the trip needs to be booked at least a year in advance. The most common activities is sightseeing from view points, and hiking on walking routs. You can even rent a live mule to ride on. But even the mule hikes are pretty rough, and you need to be in decent shape.
Tusayan is the closest village to the national park, and you can end your hike with a visit there to a small museum and viewpoints. Around The Grand Canyon, you can also visit the Native American reserves.
The “Red Rock Country” Sedona is a fun and beautiful place located about 2 hours south from the Grand Canyon, and close by to city of Flagstaff.
Sedona‘s unique scenery make is a special place for visiting the outdoors Sedona offers various activities for archaeology; arts and culture; shopping; outdoor sports or spa treatments enthusiastic. Hiking was my choice of activity, and I loved it. http://www.sedonausa.com/sedona-az-things-to-do/
This historic city became one of the most touristic and well known cities across America.
Flagstaff is 2,100 meters above sea level, and it’s strategically located on the most famous Route 66 Highway, close to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. Arizona’s highest top, “empires top”, is located just about 16 km from town and the largest oak forest in Northern America is right next to it. So it’s a great “home base” for you visiting the area.
Flagstaff among other things is also a college town, so it has a nice cool vibes with nice a cheap restaurants, cafes and bars.
When I was there, I had the chance to visit a local fashion show by local young designers.
Where to stay ?
I stayed at the De Beau Hostel, near route 66, bus station and Amtrak station. It’s also a walk away from a few nice restaurants, student bars and cafes. The place is a nice hostel with large and clean dorm rooms (When I was there, I had a whole 8 persons dorm room for myself for a while..), social room, and a cool backyard and front porch.
It’s a great place to meet people, and they offer pretty good tours to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. I took both tours, and enjoyed them very much. I stayed there for about 10 days.
The place also has internet service and free Wi-Fi, but one travel tip I can give you, is that there is a university nearby, where you can get access to free internet in their library.
I ended up my coast to coast American trip where I should, in the “Big Apple”, New York.
It said that there is the rest of the U.S.A, and then there’s New York, which lives under its own phase and sets the tone for the others. There is no other city like New York that describes what big city, urban life is all about is. A lot of tourists that come to the U.S.A only come to see New York, where you will not see the full experience of America, but in the other hand, i think no trip across the U.S.A is complete without visiting this special city.
I stayed there in my good friend, and rising fashion designer typical New York studio apartment Upper East Side of the most famous part of New York, Manhattan. I went to the museums, trendy bars, clubs and restaurants and shops, and had my beautiful stroll around New York “green lung” Central Park. I used the most popular transportation options to move myself around, my feet. And when they got tired, I used to most efficient and famous New York subway. I did a trip across the bridge to another famous part of New York – Brooklyn, to visit my friend at his work. I somewhat lived the New York Way of life for about 2 weeks.
All in All, New York is a must see place on any travel list. A lot of people would also put it on their “places to live at least once in your life time” list. I can certainly understand these people, but in it’s not for me to live, But I would defiantly would love to come back to this city for a visit over and over again..